The Countryside Alliance has called for rural connectivity parity so that the countryside can play its part in the Government’s newly launched Digital Strategy.

The Government’s new strategy aims to create an exceptional digital economy “that works for everyone”, and recognises that the UK’s digital sector is world-leading and a major driver of growth and productivity. The Strategy will place digital skills, infrastructure and innovation at the heart of the economy and includes proposals to offer digital skills to millions of individuals and businesses.

The bold ambitions of the Digital Strategy are welcomed by the Countryside Alliance as we recognise the benefits that digital innovation and skills can bring to the rural economy. However, we are concerned that this is not a long term commitment to the education and skills that will be crucial to support the UK economy post-Brexit. We are also concerned that rural areas could be left further behind as there are still 1.4 million premises unable to access broadband speeds over 10 Mbit/s and only 59% of homes in rural areas are able to access superfast speeds.

Countryside Alliance Head of Policy Sarah Lee commented: “The Countryside Alliance believes the rural economy should play a significant role in the UK economy and the Digital Strategy could enable it to do so, but for the countryside to play its role to the fullest we must also ensure that rural areas are connected. It is still unacceptable that 960,000 homes in rural areas still cannot get an adequate broadband connection. With the drive for digital by default and the ambition for the UK to have a world-leading digital economy we must get the basics right first by ensuring connectivity in the countryside or it will be left behind in the digital age.

Ends..

Notes to editors

  • The Countryside Alliance welcomes the Government’s commitment to a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband and the inclusion of this in the Digital Economy Bill.
  • The Countryside Alliance calls for the Government to set out clear plans for how the new ‘legal right to broadband’ contained in the Digital Economy Bill will work in practice.
  • The Countryside Alliance calls for more to be done to incentivise private investment in digital infrastructure. It is important that the Government views a USO as one of a range of options to deliver broadband to the last 5%.